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The People's Guide To Mexico

A Single Woman Going to Sinaloa:

Rent a Car or Take the Bus?
Is it Safe?

Q&A Devra & Carl

Published May, 2008

(August 06) Hi Carl and Lorena,

I'm a woman (60) and am doing some historical research in the areas of Sinaloa and Sonora... Topolabampo, El Fuerte, Mayocoba (in the Sierra Madre of Sonora, near the Sinaloa border near Yecora), Guaymas, Los Mochis, etc. I'm doing some searching for documents (Alamos and Guaymas), but otherwise trying to get a sense of the land and places.... Speak passable Spanish and have traveled in other areas of Mexico.

I'm flying in, either to Los Mochis or Hermosillo, but is it better to rent a car and drive myself to these areas, or take buses? Or a combination? I've plotted some of this out for the car, but I'm not sure in weighing the wear and tear on nerves and the flexibility of a car (or is that a Los Angeles based illusion?)... Would love your input on this one.

thanks, Devra

Carl Replies:

Yours is something of an "apples or oranges?" question, so without knowing a lot more about your past experience in Mexico, your schedule and your budget, I don't think I have a clear answer for you.

First of all, as a researcher I assume you know that the area you'll visit doesn't have the nicest reputation. For that reason, I strongly suggest that you do not drive at night. The main highways are in good condition, but there's point in pushing your luck. Avoid going very far off the beaten track by yourself.

You could do your entire trip by bus -- and as you must know, buses go everywhere in Mexico, sooner or later. But... unless you're willing to make liberal uses of taxis in order to make connections, you might well find buses to be tiring and too time consuming. This all depends, of course, on just how many individual places you will visit at each of your destinations.

Are you taking a laptop and (heavy) research materials? If you carry a laptop on buses, keep it close at hand. I put mine in a scruffy daypack and then loop the strap through my arm or ankle. I don't put it in the overhead rack.

Here's a tip that really works: carry your PDA, camera, and can't-bear-to-lose items in a cheap over-the-shoulder diaper bag. Thieves rarely steal diapers.

How much luggage will you have? If more than a little, I'd lean toward the car rather than the bus.

Where are you coming from? If money is an issue consider flying to Tucson and then busing to Los Mochis. It is 4 lanes all the way and easily done in one day.

Once you get to Mochis you could use buses for your work there, then rent a car and drive to Alamos -- it is a straightforward drive. In Alamos you could decide whether or not to continue by car, or return the car to Mochis and resume your trip by bus.

Does that help?

Saludos, Carl

Devra Replies

Thanks so much for the suggestions (I'm going out tomorrow to get a diaper bag. That's a GREAT idea!)

I am going to be flying from Los Angeles into Los Mochis, then going to Ahome, Mayocoba (town near Ahome), Topolobampo, Alamos and then Fuerte.

On the area around Los Mochis and Ahome: how are these in terms of problems for driving during the day?.... I have some Mexican friends who warn I shouldn't be driving anyplace in northern Mexico alone, no matter when (narcotraficantes and kidnappers), and others who say its no problem... (One woman academic, in fact, drove her van and her two small children all over that area, staying in one of the small Mayo towns. doing research on Banda music)... About ten days altogether, then back to teach!

I understand that in terms of going to El Fuerte, its best to ask folks in Los Mochis or that area re conditions and if it's safe to drive. I'm thinking of going to Fuerte by either train or bus: any recommendations on that one? (And then taking the train to Chihuahua through Copper Canyon and fly out of Chihuahua)

Carl replies:,

I think the odds of being kidnapped or even carjacked in northern Mexico are less than in much of LA and southern California -- and that's no joke, statistics will almost certainly prove it to be true. But, you do need to exercise reasonable caution, and any woman alone in Mexico ought to utilize extra street-smarts. Just don't be foolish and you'll be fine -- how's that for blanket advice? :)

Driving from Mochis to El Fuerte is very easy. If you ask Mexicans for "conditions" you can expect a lot of dire warnings, as most Mexicans have an aversion to leaving home or traveling to strange (to them) places. Of course, if the person you ask seems to have valid concerns, I'd heed them, but I can't count the number of times Mexicans have warned me not to travel to places I know very well are just fine.

The last time I went to El Fuerte I took the bus from Mochis -- it was fast and cheap, and I got a great shrimp cocktail in El Fuerte, at a street corner stand near the bus station.

I like El Fuerte much more than Mochis -- Fuerte is a very beautiful colonial town. You can walk at night there, especially around the central plaza. If it is still there, I found a small bookstore with some obscure publications on local history. Ask for the libreria.

Yes, take the train from El Fuerte -- no need for reservations; the arrangements can be done once you arrive.

Check our website... I think I published some suggestions for Ciudad Chihuahua several years back and they should still be valid. The city is under-rated in some regards. Not a lot to see, but you won't be there long. For a great buffet breakfast, try the big older hotel right on the plaza, behind the church... My memory is slipping so I don't have the name, but you can't miss it. The local politicos and business types hang out there, so the people watching can be as good as the food.

I hope you'll let us know how your trip goes -- women travelling alone would especially appreciate hearing of your experience.

Saludos, Carl

Devra replies,

Thanks so much for getting back to me on this... It's reassuring. I tend to think that Mexicans (and Mexican academics in particular) do issue dire warnings about 'gente de la provencia' who, to me, are like the folks I know here and in my experiences traveling (rural Oaxaca and rural Michoacan) people have been absolutely great! If anything, go out of their way to help.

I will let you know. The biggest thumbs up for the trip came from the woman I mentioned in Nashville, so... and I know how not to be foolish in Mexico (or so far so good...). I'm excited about the trip...

With much thanks, yet again, for your responses...

Later: July 07
Dear Carl and Lorena,

I wrote you last year, asking for advice about traveling by car (woman alone) in Sinaloa and Sonora and am finally writing you a bit about the trip.

I flew into Los Mochis and rented a car. Had made a reservation in a local hotel, and began on my research. People were fabulous throughout, and had a wonderful time.

After hearing tales of doom from some Mexican academic friends (in Tijuana and Hermosillo), I ended up listening to some others, (a man in Mazatlan and a friend of his from Tennessee...a woman who had driven all over Sinaloa collecting banda music and had no problems). I rented a car.

I loved driving. Ended up driving out to a small ejido about twenty miles east of Los Mochis, and later up to Alamos (two times). Didn't drive at night and didn't go to Culiacan (which everybody tended to agree was indeed full of crime, as are most major cities just about anywhere)...

I had one moment of pause at the Sinaloa/Sonora border when a border guard, after inspecting my car, asked me to give a lift to two officials (tales of various Mexican police flashed through my head), but who turned out to be two very young (maybe pushing twenty five) inspectors of the shrimp fields who were going home to rest. Was the birthday of one of them, we sang him "Las Mananitas" and I happily drove them to Navajoa, on the way to Alamos.

Made two trips between Alamos and Los Mochis, (about three hours each way), the latter trip staying there for 16 de Septiembre. Not only a fine Grito de Dolores, and friendly street crowds, but also a fabulous day of horse riding in the barranca... Fine horsemen (and they were all men), were dressed casually. The horses were dancing to banda music from groups playing from two stages. Mostly attended by the Mexicanos of Alamos, (the sizable Anglo population was mostly absent), and some of the finest horsemanship I've ever seen. Lovely day of sitting around the placita, watching the horses, motor bikes, cars and people going around and around.

Ended the trip by taking the bus to Fuerte and finding a place off the plaza, which was wonderful, inexpensive and had gracious hosts. Dug around for my research, in the process meeting a number of lovely people who were very helpful. Did talk to some about what has become a considerable presence of drug traffickers, but they tend to kill each other, (and evidently also each others families), although in some of the more northern reaches sometimes buses have been robbed.

Finally took the train through Copper Canyon to Chihuahua. Did it in one sitting (long), but fabulous. Chihuahua was a let down from Sinaloa and Sonora. Wasn't the same kind of friendliness there, possibly simply a bigger city, and conductors on the train all seemed exceptionally grouchy. Was there a day and headed back to LA.

I loved Sinaloa and Sonora. I'd driven before (again by myself, in US car) between Naco and Cananea (and read in the paper that there was recently a fully armed attack by drug dealers there...). Going to Mexico City and Guanajuato in about a month.

While drug traffickers and crime are major problems, my impression is it depends largely on local circumstances.

In any case, I love your book and website!


The People's Guide to Mexico
13th edition
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